Hydra's Head

By Nancy Holt

The Seneca Indians of New York have a saying: “Pools of water are the eyes of the earth.” At night the pools of Hydra’s Head “see” the stars brought down into their circumferences, by day they catch in their “view” sky, clouds, sun, and a bird or two. The moon is seen moving from pool to pool as I walk—a continuous recurrence of light encircled. Eddies and whirlpools in the river below, fed by the mad waters of Niagara Falls seven miles upstream, keep up a loud rhythm— there’s always the sound of water. Hearing and seeing come together in a vaporous fusion. The sky has suddenly fallen and is circled at my feet. Clouds drift through the earth, the sun gleams off the windblown ripples. A bottomless hole is there to engulf me. A sinking feeling begins to pervade. Nature’s mirrors absorb. The color of the concrete pipe seen rimming the pools echoes in the color of the rocks nearby. The concrete separating water from earth is itself made of these elements—sand, stones, water combined. From time to time the air moves and waves the water. Then reflections waver, breaking up on the surface, becoming whole again in stillness. Changes in sunlight cause the color of entire pools to change or vanish in a silvery glimmer. Shades of green, aquamarine, blue, and silver come and go as I move around the pools. The depth and diameter of the sunken pipes causes shadows to be continuously cast; the green-gray color of wet concrete and the slight haze of river water all come together to bring about the surface color and the endlessness of the pools. The bottoms are invisible, the depths unknown. Evaporation and rain interact in an emptying and replenishing cycle. Each drop of rain causes circular ripples to multiply—circles within circles within circles. Water cascades down a tiny waterfall nearby. Falling water, rushing water, swirling water, still water, sound of water, color of water coalesce here in this place of water, not far from Niagara Falls—their proximity always felt, producing a continuous flow of liquid meditations.

How to cite

Holt, Nancy. “Hydra's Head.” In Nancy Holt: Sightlines, edited by Alena J. Williams, University of California Press, 2011, pg 74. Originally published in Arts Magazine 49, no.5, Special Issue: Sculpture (January 1975), 57-59.